Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's Mikko Hirvonen will start next week's Wales Rally GB knowing victory could deliver him his maiden world title.
The Finn is currently second in the 2011 WRC drivers' standings in his Ford Fiesta RS WRC car, eight points behind arch-rival Sébastien Loeb heading into the 13th and final round. A maximum 28 points are available from the four-day rally - taking into account the Power Stage - and the points' permutations are complex.
But 31-year-old Hirvonen has set his sights on nothing less than victory in the challenging forests of Wales to give him the best opportunity of landing Ford's first drivers' world title since 1981.
“The only thing I can do is aim to win the rally. If something unexpected happens to Loeb, I may not need to win anymore, but from the outset, the sole target has to be victory,” he said.
“If I win the championship, it would mean so much to so many people. It's the reason I'm here, and has been the goal since I started rallying - to be the best and to win the world title.
“It would be the perfect reward for the whole team, which has worked so hard. For me and my family and all those people who have helped me since the beginning of my career, it would be huge,” he added.
Rally GB has undergone a facelift for 2011, with a fourth day of competition adding something of an endurance factor to the already tough gravel speed tests. Fast forest tracks taking in the length of Wales account for the bulk of the competitive distance, but the unpredictable winter weather is traditionally the toughest challenge for drivers.
Although the forecast suggests ice and snow are unlikely, fog and rain could be a threat. In damp and gloomy conditions fog hangs between the trees, while also throwing a white blanket across exposed areas on high ground, frequently reducing visibility to a few metres.
Rain is forecast both before and during the rally, and the gravel tracks can quickly turn to mud as grip becomes increasingly inconsistent. However, Hirvonen, winner here in 2007, is not afraid of the prospect of tough conditions.
“In Wales, everything depends so much upon the conditions. If they're tricky, you need to be confident, trust the pace notes and take risks, even though you can't see so well in places. That's where you can really make a difference, and sometimes it really is a case of win or bust. I wouldn't mind if it rained because if the conditions are bad, there's more chance of the unexpected,” he continued.
“Although it's short, the final Power Stage could turn out to be one of the biggest stages in rallying history. With bonus points available, the whole championship could be decided by just that one test.
“We must give huge importance to it, because there could be an awful lot to fight for there.”